A journal following the history, design, construction and operation of Bernard Kempinski's O Scale model railroad depicting the U. S. Military Railroad (USMRR) Aquia-Falmouth line in 1863, and other model railroad projects.
©Bernard Kempinski All text and images, except as noted, on this blog are copyrighted by the author and may not be used without permission.

May 29, 2011

Memorial Day Weekend

It's been hard to find time to work on the layout these days with the nice weather and lots of home remodeling projects. But we did find time to show off the layout to my daughter and her beau Aaron. Hopefully we can set aside some time to get some layout work on this long weekend.

Danica showing off the burned station at Falmouth that she helped make. 

May 21, 2011

Witness to War and Reunion

Alicia and a soldier from the
28thMA Infantry. The 28th
MA is a local Mid-Atlantic Union
re-enactor unit. This fellow is actually
a retired US Army veteran.
Alexandria, VA hosted a Civil War Living History Event this weekend. The city hosted a variety of open museums, tours and a Living History Event at Market Center near City Hall. Alicia and I attended the Living History Event as spectators.

The 150th Anniversary of the Union Occupation of Alexandria and the deaths of Lieutenant Ellsworth and Jackson are fast approaching. These were the = first casualties of the civil war. Alexandria has several events planned to commemorate these momentous occasions.

Though a serious time in history, the Market Square event was more a carnival atmosphere with all aspects of civil war life present including soldiers and civilians.

The Market Square was set up like the typical Farmer's market except that each stand represented different aspects of the Civil War instead of selling produce. I especially liked the heavy concentration of civilian re-enactors, including African American military and civilian period re-enactors. Most re-enactors are very scrupulous about using authentic clothing and equipment, so their photos make good reference material.

I learned from the Alexandria Archeology and African American Civil War Museum representatives that there might be information about the US Construction Corps that worked on the USMRR. I have marked that on my list as needed visits.

Ron Beavers and his wife were there. Ron had his railroad artifacts on display.  Here Ron has an interested client learning about Civil War railroads.

These Union reenactors had what I regarded as a very authentic look - that lean and fit look that came from months of campaigning. The females also captured the period look wonderfully.


There was a Victorian Dance group that demonstrated period era dancing. I believe the announcer said this is called a quadrille, a forerunner to square dancing.

The several other groups were present including period photographer, fire department, artillery, medical corps, fire zouaves, an early war Virginia regiment and several bands.
US Regular Troops

Some early war Virginia regimental troops in "battle shirts."   After a
couple of years of campaigning they won't look so well fed.

A full load of kit. Many soldiers abandoned a majority of this gear
after a few months of marching and fighting.

May 19, 2011

Mallory Map 1862

I visited the Library of Congress Map Room looking at the Sanborn Maps for some more evidence of the track alignment at Falmouth. I was unable to find any of Sanborn maps for that area, but I did come across this map entitled, "Part of the north bank of the Rappahannock River showing the approaches to Fredericksburg : prepared under the direction of Capt. R.S. Williamson & 1st Lt. Nicolas Bowen, Corps Topogl. Engrs., U.S.A. for the use of the Army of the Potomac. Compiled by Fred. Churchill, vol. A.D.C. Decr. 1862 / drawn by C.A. Mallory."

In reviewing this map, I noticed that it shows the location of the station at Falmouth as well as a double ended siding.  Here is an excerpt of the map showing the area applicable to my railroad. I colorized it to make terrain features easier to see. The whole map is available here if you wish to download it..

Note that the tracks run on the east side of  Clairborne Run. They were relocated sometime in the 1920s to the west side where they still reside. The former site of the station is currently occupied by an Elk Lodge off Cool Spring Road. Note how the town of Falmouth is not near the station.  

Keen observers will note that I have the road to the Lacy house on the wrong side of the station on my layout. I also have the Lacy House where the Philips House  should be. Phillips house burned during the Union occupation, so only the four chimneys would be visible. Perhaps I will change the backdrop.
The remains of Phillips House east if Falmouth Station

May 16, 2011

Escape to Freedom

The following is an edited compilation of textual inscriptions from historical markers in Stafford County, VA that partially describe the role the Aquia Line played in both the slave trade and escape to freedom, including some of the most famous cases of the era, Solomon Northrup and Henry "Box" Brown. For more information about the markers including a map showing where these markers can be found see this link and the Trail of Freedom website.

Aquia Landing was once a vital hub in Virginia's transportation network. As early as 1815, steamboats from Washington and Alexandria made regular trips here, transferring passengers, mail and slaves to coaches bound for points south. In 1842, the Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac Railroad completed its line to Aquia, reducing travel time between Washington and Richmond. The junction here of steamboat and rail marked Aquia as an important place in antebellum Virginia and a major crossroads of the interstate slave trade.
By the 1850s, Virginia was exporting more slaves than any other state. Thousands of them, often handcuffed and packed amidst the cargo, passed through Aquia bound for slave markets farther south. From Aquia, most traveled onward. Some larger groups were forced to walk in chained gangs, or coffles, to destinations as far as 300 miles away.

Solomon Northup's OdysseySolomon Northrup , was a famous African American free born in New York but kidnapped in Washington, DC in 1841 and forced into twelve years of slavery. His kidnappers took him through Aquia Landing on his way to servitude. He later sued and won his freedom and wrote a book about his amazing experiences, which is available free on-line.

"In the forenoon the steamer reached Aquia Creek. There the passengers took stages — Burch and his five slaves occupying one exclusively. ...He told me to hold up my head and look smart. That I might, perhaps, get a good master if I behaved myself. I made him no reply. Reaching the steamboat, we were quickly hustled into the hold, among barrels and boxes of freight...After sunrise...we were called up on deck to breakfast. Burch took our hand-cuffs off. ...Breakfast over, the hand-cuffs were restored."

The rail line to Aquia sometimes provided an opportunity for slaves seeking freedom. In 1848, slaves William and Ellen Craft of Georgia embarked on their dangerous journey to escape. Ellen, born of a slave mother and a white father, disguised herself as a white man seeking medical treatment in the North. William assumed the role of her body servant. They traveled by train, carriage, and steamship from Georgia to Philadelphia, passing unchallenged through Aquia Landing. They reached Philadelphia — and freedom — on Christmas day 1848.

Three months later, Henry "Box" Brown became one of the most famous escapees in American history. A slave in Richmond, Brown packed himself in a wooden box to be mailed to freedom. By wagon, train, and steamboat, Brown traveled north, sometimes upside down. After 27 hours and undetected passage through Aquia Landing, the Express Mail box carrying Henry Box Brown was delivered in Philadelphia, its occupant a slave no more.

"The joy of the friends was very great; when they heard that I was alive they soon managed to break open the box, and then came my resurrection from the grave of slavery. I rose a freeman...." —Henry Box Brown, Mar. 30, 1849

During the Civil War many slaves throughout the Aquia region rejoiced at the opportunity for freedom. Thousands left their houses, farms, and plantation, heading north toward the Union army.

Some "contrabands" (as the army called them), took jobs with the Union army, often as paid servants to officers. They earned between 25 and 40 cents per day, plus a ration. But for most former slaves, their journey to freedom continued north. Soldiers shepherded them onto steamboats at Aquia Landing for the short journey up the Potomac to Washington, D.C.

Steamer Keyport by James Bard, it closely resembles the 1/48th scale  SS Mt Washington kit that I have. Perhaps I will name my vessel Keyport.
When the Union army evacuated the area in September 1862, a final burst of freedom-seekers flooded Aquia Landing. Among them was Fredericksburg slave John Washington, who slipped aboard the Washington-bound steamer Keyport. That spring and summer, as many as 10,000 slaves made the journey into Union lines—to freedom.

I bounded across the gang plank and concealed myself for a while until the steamer got off from the wharf. I then came out and arrived Safe at 6th Street Wharf in Washington D.C. on the night of September 1st, 1862 in a hard rain."
—John Washington
A final observation by W.W. Wright, Superintendent, USMRR, about the escaping slaves passing through Aquia Landing.

"It may be proper to state here that when we evacuated Fredericksburg, by direction of the Maj. Gen., we brought away a number of white families with such of their goods as could be readily moved and furnished to the Adams Express Co. cars to load all their goods.  During the last two days the contrabands fairly swarmed about the Fredericksburg and Falmouth Stations, and there was a continuous black line of men, women and children moving north along the road, carrying all their worldly goods on their heads.  Every train running to Aquia was crowded with them.  They all seemed to have perfect confidence that if they could only get within our lines they would be taken care of somehow.  I think it is safe to estimate the number of contrabands that have passed by this route since we took possession of the road at Ten Thousand."
—W.W. Wright, Superintendent, U.S. Military Railroad Report, Sept. 17, 1862.
Escaping slaves are an important part of the USMRR Aquia Line. I plan to have scenes showing former slaves both on construction crews and as refugees fleeing toward freedom. This quote also verifies the fact that the Adams Express Company operated on the USMRR Aquia Line.

May 14, 2011

Redoubt No. 2

I received an interesting call today from Dr Thomas Mountz. Tom discovered my blog and to called to tell me about the fort he has on his property. That's right, Tom owns an authentic civil war fort. But more importantly from my railroad's perspective is that Tom's fort is Redoubt No. 2, part of the Union defensive works protecting Aquia Landing.

This fort is on the Virginia register of Historic Sites. The North American Forts website says,

Redoubt #2 (two guns) a 95-foot square moated work at the eastern end of present-day Rt. 630 (Courthouse Road) on Old Fort Lane. Still exists in good condition on private property.
A quick search on google maps showed this winter time view of the remains of the fort. The fort is on private property and is in delicate condition, so don't try to visit without Tom's permission. But this is exciting news. The fort is located on the highest terrain around, so it should be quite prominent, especially considering how deforested the countryside was at the time of the war.

Tom has done a lot of research into the redoubt and has published a paper about it. You can get a copy of the paper by contacting him at oldfort@verizon.net. He does not have a website.

Tom's research found this image from the Sketchbook of Private Henry Berckhoff at the Digital History Website, a collaborative partnership between the University of Houston, Chicago Historical Society. The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, the National Park Service and several other groups.

Note the railroad trestle in the foreground. This is probably the bridge over Accokeek Creek, though it could be a smaller trestle elsewhere on the line. Redoubt No. 2 is on the hill top in the background. 

Given that old civil war redoubts don't hold up well to the weather, Redoubt 2, which is still in good shape, is even more remarkable. There were also Redoubts Numbers  1 and 3, but both have been destroyed by commercial development. Redoubt No. 3 has a stone marker erected by the real estate developer after he learned his bull dozers had inadvertently destroyed the earthworks during construction of a new housing development.

Google Earth View looking east from Brooke towards Aquia Landing. The location of Redoubt two is indicated. It is actually on the highest point of the ridge, but appears a little lower due to foreshortening. The current CSX track is on the left side. The deforested look of Google Earth terrain is appropriate for civil war era views.

That Digital History web site has this, somewhat fanciful,  image of Aquia Landing entitled, "Homeward bound, Hops Landing on the Aquia Creek, 3 may 1863." "Hops" is probably "Haupt's" misspelled. I am not sure what we can take from this other than the clutter and busy appearance of the base, and perhaps the coloration of the locomotive.

In looking at my track plan redoubt No. 2 should be located somewhere on the hill over looking Brook. I can either paint it on the backdrop, or build a model of it.

I am leaning to building an actual model of it since good information, thanks to Tom's research, is available. This is also probably a good opportunity to use smaller scale items to force perspective.

Tom mentioned that other works left over from the Aquia defenses are still extant, so a field trip later this year when the leaves are down is in order.

May 11, 2011

Backdrop Painting with Daniel Chard

Landscape Illusion
For several years I have been recommending Daniel Chard's book Landscape Illusion as a great reference for people trying to learn how to paint realistic backdrops for model railroads. I just discovered that Daniel Chard has a wonderful website that displays some of his work. Check out this gallery of his older work, which I find especially relevant to backdrop painting. His book can be ordered from Amazon at a substantial discount.

May 7, 2011

Spotsylvania County Battlefields Visit

After presenting my ACW RR talk to the RF&P Historical Society on May 7, I did a brief tour of the Chancellorsville and Wilderness battlefields. The talk went very well and I signed up to join the society, since I am modeling it, albeit under different management. I think the talk went well and I got invited to present it to a group of Richmond area modelers.

The Spotsylvania area of Virginia was the scene of four  major battles over the  course of 1862 to 1864.  My model railroad is set in the time period between the Battle of Fredericksburg, 1862  and Chancellorsville, 1863. So I thought it might be worthwhile to check out the battlefields.

Southern and eastern side of Salem Church
The library where the RF&PHS meets is about 500 yards from the Salem Church site. The church still stands and is in good condition. The Battle of Salem Church was the last phase of the battle of Chancellorsville, where Sedgewick's Corps was forced back across the Rappahannock River. The area is nearly completely overrun with generic US suburban development, but a small plot surrounding the church is undeveloped. I got a few good color pictures of the church unobstructed by trees or modern development. These type of photos are handy for pasting in to backdrop artwork.

A full set of plans for Salem Church are available at the Library of Congress HAER/HABS web site. One thing to note about many of the rural churches in Virginia at the time of the ACW is the lack of a steeple. I base this observation on my review of many of the church plans available on the HAER/HABs collection. This church might be a good candidate for the church in my version of Brooke. At 42 by 38 feet it would be less than a foot square.

A diorama depicting the mortal wounding of Jackson. It happened at
night, so the diorama is quite dark.

I stopped at both the Chancellorsville National Park Visitor Center and the Wilderness Battlefield Exhibit Shelter.  At both locations park rangers were available to answer questions. They were quite helpful. The Chancellorsville visitor center had some nice displays including two dioramas, one depicting Stonewall Jackson being shot by his own men (by accident) and the fight at the famous Bloody Angle from the Battle of Spotsylvania in 1864.

Diorama of the fighting at the Bloody Angle

At the Wilderness battlefield is the Ellwood House. This house is another antebellum era house that still stands and resembles its ACW appearance. It is open for visitors and is really a neat spot to visit. With the perfect spring weather and its peaceful, quiet location, it is hard to imagine a vicious bloody battle raging around the farm. The house was the HQ for two Union Corps Commanders during the battle. This is another good building for background photos.

Finally, on the way home I went to visit Norm Wolfe's HO layout across the river near White Oak. On the way I stopped on Cool Spring Road to try to find the site of the old Falmouth train station. A local fellow who runs an auto body shop was helpful in pointing me in the right direction.  I was unable to find any trace of the station, but did get lots of scratches from briers and thorn bushes. I did get a good look at Clairborne Creek. It is very rugged terrain with steep banks. I think my O Scale version captures it pretty well. The RF&P relocated this portion of the line in the 1920s to the other side of the creek and straightened out the curves. In this photo, the CSX tracks are to the upper right.  The ACW tracks were on the left of the creek in this picture.
Clairborne Creek near the former site of the Falmouth Station

May 3, 2011

Modeling water with acrylic shower doors

Walter Wick making a set for one of his "I Spy" books. These
photo sets are quite amazing.
Marty McGuirk and I were guests on the Model Railcast show #141 this week. In it I discussed various methods to model a water surface. One technique I mentioned is using a rippled shower door to simulate the water surface. A good example can be found at this website where the model builders were making a detailed photo set for a childrens' book illustration (see photo at right).
I Spy Treasure Hunt
Apparently there are several styles of ripples and frosted effects available, so you should inspect the product before you purchase it to get one that is glossy and realistically shaped.

I am going to investigate this further and give it a try. The problem I have is that my water surface is bigger than a single 4 x 8 sheet, so I will have a seam somewhere if I go with this technique. Perhaps a thin coat of acrcylic gloss gel medium can help disguise the seam. In any case, it looks like an easy way to get a large surface done with little risk.

May 1, 2011

Presentation at RF&P Historical Society Meeting

will be presenting my talk on Civil War Railroads to the RF&P Historical Society on May 7th, 2011 at the Salem Church Branch of the Central Rappahannock Regional Library on Salem Church Road in Spotsylvania County, Virginia. Since the audience are certified RF&P fans I have tailored my talk to have more RF&P information. This was easy to do since the USMRR Aquia Line was built on the roadbed of the RF&P. I may even have a surprise or two for them. If you are going to be in the area, stop by and check it out.

I spotted the repainted  RF&P  101,a GP-7, at Dillwyn, VA in
1992 (wow, that was a long time ago.)
I have another connection with the RF&P other than I am modeling a portion of it in the civil war, that is I live about two blocks from the former RF&P main line near the southern yard ladder of Potomac Yards. The yard and railroad presence is now almost completely gone, except for a CSX three track line, and parallel Metro Rail subway lines.  One of my running trails takes me along the main line for about two miles and I usually see at least one train when I'm running. So I have a soft spot for the RF&P in my rail fan heart.

Storing an engine at Falmouth

During his command,  General Burnside required a engine be kept at Falmouth in steam ready for his use. I assume that General Hooker did the same. So I added two engine storage tracks at Falmouth, one for this purpose. Here is a shot of engine McCallum waiting the General's call, while engine General is refueled and watered on the service track. This scene is pretty much complete.